Squandered Heritage Vintage

Lawsuit, Enviromental Justice, Greenspace and The OPSB with a dash of the RSD

Moton School neighborhood

One trip to one school opened a can of worms larger than one could imagine. First Leigh took a trip to Moton and what she saw there was disturbing enough to make Sarah take a trip

This one begs more questions than would seem possible in an hour long RSD planning process. Why where the Neighbors in this area allowed to come back? Why didn’t the Federal government come in with a real just and equitable buy out plan? Why is this School still filled with furniture and paperwork and most likely sensitive records?

By the way the nickname for this area in the 40s was

Dantes Inferno

From the Senate Commitee

New Orleans Agriculture Street Landfill Community

Dozens of toxic time bombs along Louisiana’s Mississippi River petrochemical corridor, the 85-mile stretch from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, make the region a major environmental justice battleground. The corridor is commonly referred to as Cancer Alley. Black communities all along the corridor have been fighting against environmental racism and demanding relocation to areas away from polluting facilities. iii

Two largely Black New Orleans subdivisions, Gordon Plaza and Press Park, have special significance in terms of environmental justice and emergency response. Both subdivisions are built on a portion of land that was used as a municipal landfill for more than 50 years. The Agriculture Street Landfill, covering approximately 190 acres, was used as a city dump as early as 1910. Municipal records indicate that after 1950, the landfill was mostly used to discard large solid objects, including trees and lumber, and it was a major source for dumping debris from the very destructive 1965 Hurricane Betsy. It is important to note that the landfill was classified as a solid waste site and not a hazardous waste site.

In 1969, the federal government created a home ownership program to encourage lower income families to purchase their first home. Press Park was the first subsidized housing project of this program in New Orleans. The federal program allowed tenants to apply 30 percent of their monthly rental payments toward the purchase of a family home. In 1987, seventeen years later, the first sale was completed. In 1977, construction began on a second subdivision, Gordon Plaza. This development was planned, controlled, and constructed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO). Gordon Plaza consists of approximately 67 single-family homes.

In 1983, a portion of the Agriculture Street Landfill site was purchased by the Orleans Parish School Board as a site for a school. The fact that this site had previously been used as a municipal dump prompted concerns about the suitability of the site for a school. The school board contracted engineering firms to survey the site and assess it for contamination and hazardous materials. Heavy metals and organics were detected.

Despite the warnings, Moton Elementary School, an $8 million state-of-the-art public school opened with 421 students in 1989. In May 1986, EPA performed a site inspection (SI) in the Agriculture Street Landfill community. Although lead, zinc, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic were found at the site, based on the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) model used at that time, the score of 3 was not high enough to place them on the National Priority List (NPL).

On December 14, 1990, EPA published a revised HRS model in response to the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA) of 1986. At the request of community leaders, in September 1993, an Expanded Site Inspection (ESI) was conducted. On December 16, 1994, the Agriculture Street Landfill community was placed on the NPL with a new score of 50.

The Agriculture Street Landfill community was home to approximately 900 African American residents. The average family income is $25,000 and the educational level is high school graduate and above. The community pushed for a buy-out of their property and to be relocated. However, this was not the resolution of choice by EPA. A cleanup was ordered at a cost of $20 million, the community buy-out would have cost only $14 million. The actual cleanup began in 1998 and was completed in 2001. iv

The Concerned Citizens of Agriculture Street Landfill filed a class action suit against the City of New Orleans for damages and relocation costs. It took nine years to bring this case to court. The case was still pending before Katrina struck. It is ironic that the environmental damage wrought by Katrina may force the cleanup and relocation of the Agriculture Street Landfill community. But nothing can give them back their health and well being, or replace the family members and friends who might still be with them were it not for the health effects of living on a landfill.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • e

    Meanwhile there are hundreds of other “imminent health threats” being demolished all over the city.

  • bobbi

    Talk about a mess and getting screwed… Let’s count the ways.

  • Simone

    Check your facts. Moton is not an RSD-controlled school. It is OPSB.

  • Simone, I make mention of the OPSB in the title. The mention of the RSD is on response to the planning process and the “snapshot” provided.

    Thanks for your concern.

  • Trina Lavigne

    I am no longer a resident of Press Park, I live there between the age of 13 to 16 and now I am a grown woman. There was nothing done then and I don’t believe anything will be done now.Our lives are forever changed not because of money but because our city nor our country care about the welfare of their people,but if it was There parents or children an they had to look there family in the eyes and realize that they can’t help them because they don’t have help to give ,it would change.Maybe if they suffered they would understand how we are and will be for some time to come.What about America the Beautiful?Was that when they cared,they never did and never will,thats why we are out its like they threw us out of the city,and rent is so high we can’t afford to live in the city we were threw out of even if we decided to come back.

  • Ruben Lee Sims

    This is just one of many Black neighborhoods and public housing constructed on toxic waste landfills. Florida has numerous similar situations. Carver Court in Orlando; Durrs Neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale; Scott and Carver Homes in Miami just to name a few. In fact, these situations are so frequent that all historical Black neighborhoods should be evaluated for toxic waste dumps.